Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Further clarification...



Warren's inauguration prayer could draw ire

Evangelicals typically pray in Jesus' name, and that's raising questions

The Associated Press

updated 6:58 p.m. CT, Tues., Dec. 30, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation drew one kind of protest. Whether the evangelical pastor offers the prayer in the name of Jesus may draw another.

At George W. Bush's 2001 swearing-in, the Revs. Franklin Graham and Kirbyjon Caldwell were criticized for invoking Christ. The distinctly Christian reference at a national civic event offended some, and even prompted a lawsuit.

Warren did not answer directly when asked whether he would dedicate his prayer to Jesus. In a statement Tuesday to The Associated Press, Warren would say only that, "I'm a Christian pastor so I will pray the only kind of prayer I know how to pray."

"Prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements nor political posturing. They are humble, personal appeals to God," Warren wrote. His spokesman would not elaborate.

Will he pray in Jesus' name?
Evangelicals generally expect their clergymen to use Jesus' name whenever and wherever they lead prayer. Many conservative Christians say cultural sensitivity goes way too far if it requires religious leaders to hide their beliefs.

"If Rick Warren does not pray in Jesus' name, some folks are going to be very disappointed," Caldwell said in a recent phone interview. "Since he's evangelical, his own tribe, if you will, will have some angst if he does not do that."

Advocates for gay rights protested Obama's decision to give Warren a prominent role at the swearing-in. The California megachurch founder supported Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in his home state. Obama defended his choice, saying he wanted the event to reflect diverse views and insisting he remains a "fierce advocate" of equal rights for gays.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a United Methodist who is considered the dean of the civil rights movement, said he hasn't yet written the benediction for the Jan. 20 ceremony. But he said "whatever religion the person represents, I think he has a right to be true to his religion."

Caldwell, also a Methodist, said no one from the Bush team told him what to say in his 2001 and 2005 benedictions.

The Houston pastor said he had "no intention whatsoever of offending" people when he quoted from Philippians and delivered the 2001 prayer "in the name that's above all other names, Jesus the Christ." In 2005, he still prayed in Jesus' name, but added the line, "respecting persons of all faiths." In the 2008 election, Caldwell supported Obama.

Wrong to expect changes?
Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, who was a presence at presidential inaugurations for several decades, said it's wrong to expect members of any faith to change how they pray in public.

"For a Christian, especially for an evangelical pastor, the Bible teaches us that we are to pray in the name of Jesus Christ. How can a minister pray any other way?" Franklin Graham said. "If you don't want someone to pray in Jesus' name, don't invite an evangelical minister."

Graham, who in 2001 stepped in for his ailing father, ended the invocation with, "We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit."

The lawsuit, which claimed that inaugural prayer was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, failed in federal court. It had been filed by atheist Michael Newdow, who separately sued to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Newdow joins new lawsuit
This time, he's joining 17 other plaintiffs, including atheist and humanist organizations, in seeking to remove all religious references from President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration.

He wants to remove the phrase "so help me God" from the oath of office, noting that it isn't in the oath set out in the Constitution. The lawsuit also seeks to block inaugural prayers by the Rev. Rick Warren and the Rev. Joseph Lowery.

Billy Graham, now 90, didn't say Jesus' name during presidential inaugurations, but made obvious references to Christ.

At Richard Nixon's 1969 swearing-in, Graham prayed "in the Name of the Prince of Peace who shed His blood on the Cross that men might have eternal life." In 1997, for Bill Clinton's inaugural, Graham prayed "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Some say inauguration is interfaith event
Leaders of other traditions with experience in interfaith work said they respected Christians who felt strongly that they should pray in Christ's name.

But they argued that a request for some modification is reasonable for a presidential inauguration, considering it's an event representing all Americans.

Imam Yahya Hendi, a Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University who travels to Muslim countries on behalf of the State Department, said that at interfaith events, he refers to Allah, or God, as "almighty creator of us all."

Rabbi Burt Visotzky, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism, said he invokes "God" for interfaith prayer.

"I know that for Christians, Jesus is part of their Trinity," said Visotzky, who has taught at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and at Protestant seminaries in the U.S. "For me as a Jew, hearing the name of a first-century rabbi isn't the worst thing in the world, but it's not my God."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A quick note about "tolerance"

I find it terrifically ironic that those illustrious proponents of “tolerance” are up in arms over our President-elect having the audacity to select a (gasp) Christian evangelical minister to offer the invocation prayer at the inaugural ceremonies.  How DARE he pray to Jesus (even though it hasn’t happened yet)?!?!


I guess people are free to agree to disagree, just so long that when you disagree with them they still get their way, and you don’t think, say, or do anything disagreeable to them.


I don’t want to jinx it, but the P-e is running this transition remarkably well.  I hope this is a foretaste of what the next 4 years is going to be like.  I mentioned to my lovely wife that he seems to be running a transition that is putting him in a great position for re-election.  I’m quite impressed.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I’m reminded of a story of a man who was traveling in his wagon.  Up the road came a merchant who was not at all paying attention as he drove his own wagon.  The man noted that the merchant was swerving wildly along the road, but refused to call to the man or pull off to the side.  “He should be more responsible and pay attention” the man was heard to grumble as the two carts neared.  “I have every right to be on the road, I will hold my ground and force him to drive the way I think he should drive” he grumbled some more.


As one would expect, the merchant’s cart struck the man’s cart.  By now the man was very, very angry as the man felt it was the merchant’s own negligence that caused the accident.  “Had you been more attentive, like me, you would have seen me coming and steered straight, you fool!” the man bellowed at the merchant.  “The damage can be repaired, let me fix it” said the merchant.  The merchant’s good demeanor only served to make the man angrier.  “He should be more sorry for running into me” thought the man as he became angrier and angrier.


“YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT YOU’RE GOING TO FIX IT!” screamed the enraged man at the merchant who, by now, wanted only to get as far away from the enraged man as possible.


The merchant repaired the man’s cart, but that wasn’t enough for the man.  “I’m going to make him pay” grumbled the man, who demanded a portion of the merchant’s goods as punishment for his negligence.


The merchant argued.  He then offered some of his goods, but that offer wasn’t enough.  The man wanted to make him pay more.  The merchant offered more, but the man demanded that the offer STILL wasn’t enough.  Eventually the merchant relented only to make the man shut up and get out of his life forever.  The merchant handed over half of his goods to the man, who greedily placed the goods in his cart.  “That’ll teach him” the man angrily thought.


The problem was that the man’s cart was not as sturdy as the merchant’s cart.  As the merchant rode away and the man yelled “I hope you’ve learned your lesson!”  The merchant called back “I hope you have a good day!”  The man called to his horses to pull the cart, but the horses couldn’t move it.  The axles on the cart were straining and as the horses strained, the axles broke.


Now the man was stuck.  He believed that if he went for help others would think him weak and take all that he believed he rightfully owned.  So, he clung greedily to all that he fought for and won, stuck there in the middle of the highway with only his treasure and anger, which had so burdened him and his cart that the wheels came off and he was never to enjoy it.  Eventually bandits came along and found the stranded man and laid upon him taking everything the man had—even the broken cart.


Moral?  Sometimes, when you fight so hard to make others pay for the wrongs they cause, you end up losing everything.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Death and taxes

Ok, not really “death AND taxes”, just taxes.


In principle, I don’t have a problem with taxes.  They’re a drag on commerce.


However, someone has to pay the guys who protect us and build our roads, then someone has to pay the people to maintain the roads.  And someone has to inspect our food.  And someone has to…  well, you get the picture.  So the government seeking ways to make revenue is a fact of life.  Like death.  (Ok, so it IS death and taxes.)


Import tariffs seem unfair due mainly to the fact that one of our founding principles is no taxation without representation.  Foreigners shipping goods to the US do not have representation and should, therefore, not be taxed.  Besides, we end up paying for that, anyway, with lazy, bloated corporate and manufacturing infrastructures.


I have absolutely no problem with re-import tariffs (taxing goods brought into the US by US firms, but that seems to be nearly impossible to enforce).


So, that leaves corporate sales and income tax, capital gains, dividends, and personal income taxes in addition to various and sundry fees that support various and sundry regulatory agencies.  Eventually all of these costs—with the exception of personal income taxes, excepting, too, from those the company’s portion of payroll taxes—are passed on to the consumer by way of overhead included in the pricing of each and every widget we buy.


Because corporate taxes—and the company’s half of the payroll taxes—are eventually passed on to the consumer, and the consumer pays the other half of those payroll taxes, as well as personal income tax, and by way of purchasing something—even milk—pays a small portion of the corporate tax and that payroll tax the company so benevolently paid on behalf of the employee, it would seem that the personal income tax is the least fair of all the taxes that are required to be paid.


Let me clarify that for just one moment:


Let’s say you make $30,000.  $2,000 is paid by your employer in payroll taxes, matching the $2,000 paid by you.  You also pay another $2,000 in income tax.  (All numbers completely hypothetical.)  You go out and buy a $10.00 widget.  In that $10.00 for your widget is included a portion of each and every employee’s payroll tax in addition to the corporate taxes owed by the company from sales to property to inventory to income—all the way up the board.  No, you’re not paying all of the company’s taxes, but you’re paying all of yours, and some of the company’s.  Nobody is paying part of yours for you.  You don’t get to pass that cost on to your consumers because you don’t have them.  So, by right of paying personal income tax AND purchasing various widgets, we, the consumer, are being taxed double—once on our income, and once on the company’s various taxation duties.


But there you have it.  It simply is what it is…  taxes are a fact of life.  And to the extent that they are a fact of life, they should be implemented as fairly as is humanly (and legislatively) possible.  Companies are going to pass the costs on to us.  Fine.  That’s how things are.  I can deal with that.  But who do we get to pass the costs on to?


Ok, so personal income taxes should be as low as possible just for fairness’s sake.  If they can go away, hurrah!  If they cannot, so be it.  How, then, do you implement an income tax system that is fair?


I don’t buy this “redistribute the wealth” crap.  Sure, that may be an outcome of a graduated taxation system, but it shouldn’t be the GOAL of a taxation system.  A tax system should be implemented for one reason and one reason only—to generate revenue for the government.  Done and done.  Fees and fines should be implemented to try and adjust behavior.  “Sin Taxes” on liquor and smokes should be called “Sin Fees” or “Sin Fines” because their intent is to reduce the consumption of products that are bad for you.  Call a lottery what it is—a “Stupid Fee” or “Idiocy Fine”.  Yes, it’s bad marketing, but it’s truth in advertising.  Slap a “Fat Fee” on sugars and High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Call them what they are.  If you want to “take” from those who make more in order to redistribute wealth, call it a “Over Earner’s Fee” or “Windfall Fee”.  Don’t hide behind tax structure, be a man about it.  Ok…  rant portion complete.


I’ve said before, I think the most fair way to implement a personal income tax is not a flat tax where everyone pays the same rate, but a graduated tax where the last dollar through the door is taxed at a higher rate than the first dollars through the door.  Why?

Because the first dollars are spent on the same necessities by everyone in the country—food, shelter, clothes, transportation, diapers, medicine.  The last dollars are spent on premium foodstuffs, the vacation home, ANOTHER purse, ANOTHER car, designer diapers, and botox.  You go to get food and you need pasta--$1.49 a box, thank you.  But if you have some extra scratch, you go for the good stuff at $1.99.  That first $1.49 paid for the pasta, the last 5 dimes paid for the premium quality of the pasta—whatever that is.  Same goes for cars.  If a $5,000 car will get you to and from work reliably, but you decide to spend $15,000 on a car loan, the extra $10,000 paid for other stuff—nicer upholstery, fresher paint, “reliability”, status, whatever.


So, if we need to raise taxes, we should raise taxes in a sensible manner.  Without revenue we have no services.


Just don’t ask me to get behind the redistribution of wealth.  That may be an outcome of a tax policy, but it should NEVER be the purpose of the tax policy.



A couple of quick things

2 quick things:


1.        Jon, you’ve convinced me to reconsider my aversion to facebook.  Maybe there is some balance between providing information to friends, family, and random net-stalkers without allowing the forum to consume my life and be the general repository of each and every personal detail from what I ate last night to what’s in this morning’s poo.

2.       I somehow managed to go nearly a full week with my father-in-law staying in my house WHILE both me and my wife were on vacation and avoid getting sucked into any significant family drama.  I spent 3 hours at my own parents’ house and manage to get sucked into (and somewhat facilitate) significant family drama.  How the fuck does that happen?

3.       I’m seriously considering running the 2010 marathon.  How cracked is my brain.  It’s not like I’ll have anything else going on…  just school;  and work;  and church leadership duties;  and raising a 2 year old; and…  and…  and…  sigh.  Why not?  What’s another 50-150 miles of training runs?

4.       I apparently cannot count in any reliable fashion.

5.       Yes, I recognize the irony of wishing to keep personal details away from facebook, yet posting on this very blog an incident (albeit, sans any and all details) of significant family drama.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


Oh, to see what those shepherds had seen… and to respond in a like manner.


Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Evil" may not be the right word for it...

I don’t think Facebook is “evil”.  It’s almost certainly an unholy abomination that will suck the life and social skills right out of any poor soul that is hapless enough to be sucked into its gaping maw…  but I’m not so certain that it’s evil.  It simply is what it is.


For some inexplicable reason a long, long time ago I started a facebook account.  Don’t know why, don’t remember when, don’t even remember doing it.  It was basically a place holder account with absolutely nothing loaded into it except, I suppose, my name.  My guess is that I was looking for something or someone.


Then a few months ago a got a message from the facebook machine.  That’s when I was reminded that I have this stupid account.  I had to be reminded of my password to see what this message was.  Someone had found me, recognized my name, and invited me to accept a friend invitation.


I considered it for a day or so and decided there wasn’t any harm in accepting it—I recognized the name, after all.


Since then a handful of others have trickled in mostly from old high school and college friends and relatives.  Some names I haven’t seen in ages, some I see every Monday and Wednesday.


But I still haven’t updated a single bit of data, nor do I intend to do so.  You see, I simply refuse to participate in the cyber-voyeurism that is facebook.  My phone works (though my cell is not with me as often as it used to be), my doorbell works, and (now that we have carpet) my house is (65%) inviting for visitors (35% of the floor is still in shipment). 


I don’t think that facebook actually helps people stay connected.  I think it helps people stay disconnected and remain sideline observers.  Sure, you can have 200 people watching your every move and discovering that, at this very moment, you’re packing for your trip to where ever you’re going.  But do those 200 people care?  Do any of those 200 people really KNOW you?  Will any one of them actually come and feed your dozens of cats or get your mail or newspaper? 


Or are they just observing you?  Watching you like you’re a pet fish?  Awareness does not breed familiarity.  I can look up a name in the phonebook and know of a person in town, but I won’t know that person.  I can claim to know the President because I can follow his every move and read about his likes and dislikes and follow his daily schedule…  but that doesn’t mean I KNOW the President.  It just means I know about the President.


The same goes for personal relationships (and other, more profound relationships, but that’s another subject entirely).  You can know about people by reading about them, but you can’t really KNOW them unless you invest some time and energy to get to know them.  It’s like that troll SPARTIKUS who lurks under the bridge here…  he thinks he knows what I think by reading what I post here, but he doesn’t know shit.  He’ll dig for “gotcha” points and try and find contradictions, of which I’m sure there are legions, but that doesn’t amount to anything.  I can look at facebook pages and see that someone is going to have a baby, or was at a party, or has just had a boob job (and they look great!), but that doesn’t mean I know any more about them than merely superficial garbage.


I am not a collection of facts.


I am not a collection of photos.


I am not my facebook page.


The problem is, though, it’s impossible to write in the stupid “what are you doing now” box “Brother Joe is not participating in facebook”, without participating in facebook.  Kind of a catch-22 there.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Ok, so McDonald’s has had (mostly) the same breakfast menu now for, what, 5 years?  A decade?  Longer?  How long have we had McMuffins, sausage McMuffins, McBiscuits, and sausage McBiscuits?


And for how long have those simple favorites been number 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the morning value menu?

And how hard is it to order a “number 1, no cheese, coffee, black, thanks!”?  It’s the same thing you had yesterday.  The same thing you had the day before.  THE SAME FUCKING THING YOU’VE HAD EVERY TIME YOU’VE COME TO THIS PLACE!!!


So, why does it take you 5 minutes to examine the menu?  Why does it take you 5 minutes to place the very intricate order of crap you’re about to shove down your fat piehole?  Why does it take you still another 5 minutes to find the money—the same amount it’s been for as long as you can remember—to pay for the meal you JUST ordered 5 minutes ago and KNEW they were inevitably going to ask for money to satisfy the charges for said meal?


Seriously, 15 minutes for “fast food”?  When you know good and well the ONLY reason the cars are lined up around the freaking store is because you are being idiotically slow?  Seriously?


And, just to drive the nail deeper…  why did I bother waiting when I could have driven 5 minutes down the road and STILL gotten my breakfast before you got done receiving your human interaction quota for the day?  That may be the truly pathetic part of the whole transaction…  I waited, and for what? 


Sausage, cheese, muffin, high cholesterol and early death.  Hooray, me.


I think this is the last meal I’m going to eat at the arches for some time to come.  I am hereby banning myself for the rest of the year.

All I want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas is a goat.


Yup, a goat.


No, not for me, that would be silly.  You can’t keep a goat within the city limits of Houston.  Well…  you can, but there are all kinds of rules and my neighborhood association won’t stand for it, anyway.


There are a few organizations that will allow you to contribute to the wealth of a family or community halfway across the globe and truly, truly make a difference, rather than just buying some more junk to pile up in our junk-obsessed homes.  You throw $300 into the kitty, and a family in Tanzania gets a goat.  It’s as easy as that.  And with that goat they have milk on a daily basis.  With milk they have protein and calories that are used to fight off disease and starvation.  Also, with a goat, they have the beginnings of a herd.  With a herd they will have meat, and meat is yummy.  With a herd they also have wealth.  With that wealth they can then provide for their daughters to be wed, sons to have brides, their children to have educations, and their family trees to be altered in good and permanent ways.


A far better gift than something that I could have bought for myself if I really needed it, anyway.  And far better than a sack of toys that some character challenged parents may pawn off for cash.


Go check them out, and get each other a goat (or chickens, or ducks, or geese, or a cow) for Christmas.


No, I’m not getting paid by either of these organizations.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Carrots and sticks

It’s interesting to hear the carrot/stick metaphor in use.

Or, maybe it isn’t…  I dunno, maybe it’s more of a pet peeve than something that’s interesting…  whatever.


Picture the man coaxing the donkey with the carrot and the stick.  The carrot is dangling from a string and is being held out in front of the donkey by a stick.

THAT is the carrot and the stick.  The reward is there, just out of reach, walk forward and grab it.  Once the desired behavior is achieved, then you get the reward.  No beatings with a stick…  merely a promised reward for proper actions.


At least that’s what I originally thought.


Then I read this German saying:  mit Zuckerbrot und Peitcshe.

Or, in English:  with sweetmeat and whip.


That would suggest reward on the one hand, punishment on the other.  Unless they’re swinging sweetmeat at the end of a whip (doubtful).


And I saw this explanation:

The carrot and stick approach was first used by owners of donkeys in order to keep their animals moving.  Whenever the animal stopped, the rider used to dangle a raw carrot in front of the animal’s nose.  And if the stubborn animal still refused to move, then guess what happened?  The owner gave it a sound thrashing with a stick!


The thrashing with a stick part still doesn’t quite sit right with me, though.  It seems to me a perversion of the original statement, not unlike the “you can’t eat your cake and have it, too” saying that has been perverted into “you can’t HAVE your cake and EAT IT, TOO”.  Of course you can have your cake and eat it…  you can’t eat it otherwise.  Once you eat it, though, you can no longer have it.  Duh.


But to coax someone with a carrot and a stick…  I don’t know.  The carrot/stick apparatus is a single unit.  Sweetmeat is distinctly separate from the whip, and the two are not combined for the reward portion of the process.  However, the carrot is ATTACHED to the stick to make the donkey move.


Maybe if it were “carrot and stick, and stick” it would make more sense to me.  I still think the saying has been perverted.


But foul is it to suggest that the adversary you’re coaxing is metaphorically equal to a donkey?